Then: In 1997, CityBeat looked into what was happening with the Emery Theatre, the historic building on Central Parkway that once housed the Ohio Mechanics Institute and a 1,600-seat, acoustically sound theater funded by Mary Emery in 1908. The theater had definitely seen better days; except for the occasional meeting of the American Theatre Organ Society or classic film showing, the Emery stood empty and unused. In 1989, the Contemporary Arts Center mulled over the idea of moving to there, but it didn't happen.
In 1997, the Cincinnati Preservation Association was trying hard to raise funds and restore the Emery to its former glory, fulfilling a need for a medium-sized house in the downtown area. (Issue of Sept. 18, 1997)
Now: "The Emery Theater is mothballed right now," sighs Margo Warminski, director of the Cincinnati Preservation Association. "They tried and tried to get state funding for restoration. They even formed a nonprofit association. But the group was unable to compete with other buildings, like UC's new spaces. Right now, it's just sitting there."
The theater is definitely sitting. But the school building was renovated and opened in 2001 as the Emery Center Apartments, with 59 studio, loft, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments that's 100 percent rented, according to Jim Moll, leasing agent for the apartments who also lives there.
" 'Mothballed,' " Moll scoffs. "I hate that term. It's being protected. Part of the funds raised to develop and convert the school were used to protect the building in its state. The organ and other things were moved out."
According to Moll, the apartments have been well-received. "It's been a successful partnership. Because Mary Emery left an iron-clad will, UC can never sell the property. So they leased it for apartments. They understood the demand for downtown housing, and they're happy to have a caretaker for the building."
The university also opened its planning department on the ground floor, which brings 40 students through its doors every year.
With the opening next summer of the Art Academy around the corner on 12th Street, Moll expects that downtown housing will see an even bigger boon. "We're attracting professors and faculty," he states. "The Main Street district is going to be even more eclectic."
Unfortunately for the other side of the building, life isn't as rosy. Moll sums it up: "The theater is collecting dust."
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